High-Reward MLB Reclamation Projects Worth Taking a Chance on for 2017
Major League Baseball free agency doesn't always set up great for everyone.
Of course, there are players whose outstanding 2016 seasons positioned them well for a big payday this winter. But there are also those whose campaigns took a divergent path.
A handful of players had forgettable 2016 seasons, making them reclamation projects for whichever teams elect to sign them. But some might be worth the risk in the hopes of a bounce-back season.
Who might be worth taking a chance on in this winter's free agency?
Pedro Alvarez, who primarily slots as a designated hitter, could provide a power-needy team with a high-ceiling option from the left side of the plate.
In 2016, he hit .249/.322/.504 with 22 homers and 49 RBI for the Baltimore Orioles. Though his slugging percentage was the highest of his career, Alvarez continues to struggle to get on base consistently.
He's never been a great hitter for average, but connecting with the right hitting coach could make him more of a multidimensional hitter. He has the capability to lead a team in home runs.
Prior to his one-year stint with the Orioles, he spent the first six years of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. With the club, he combined to hit 66 homers and 185 RBI in 2012 and 2013.
He may have hit 30-plus homers again in 2016 had he appeared in more games. But Alvarez only played in 109 games for Baltimore, notching just 376 plate appearances.
Alvarez's best season came in 2013 when he hit 36 home runs and earned 614 plate appearances—both career highs. So, it's reasonable to conclude that when he plays, he delivers as far as power numbers are concerned.
The 2016 season was the worst of Adam Lind's career after he slashed .239/.286/.431 with 20 homers and 58 RBI in a one-year stint with the Seattle Mariners.
Two seasons ago, he hit .321/.381/.479 in the last of nine seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays, though it should be noted that he only played 96 games. But that was the second in a string of three straight seasons in which Lind hit over .270 with an on-base percentage higher than .350.
His best season came in 2009 when he hit .305/.370/.562 with 35 homers and 114 RBI in 151 games.
It all gives reason to believe that 2016 was an aberration.
Though he may not return to the level at which he played in 2009, the 33-year-old could easily replicate his 2015 campaign with the Milwaukee Brewers, one in which he hit .277/.360/.460 with 20 homers and 87 RBI.
Lind, a first baseman, hits lefty. Given the frenzy to acquire left-handed hitting at the trade deadline, that makes him more attractive to teams now.
Erick Aybar's precipitous drop in 2016 comes with this disclaimer: He spent most of the year with the last-place Atlanta Braves.
Though after being traded to the Detroit Tigers, Aybar didn't fare much better; playing on a bad team most of the season is sure to torpedo the statistics of a player who was otherwise consistent.
Any player hitting in a bad lineup is sure to see fewer pitches he can hit. Aybar hit .243/.303/.320 in 2016 and played 97 of his 126 games with the Braves.
But in six of the last seven seasons prior, Aybar hit at least .270 and had an on-base percentage of at least .320 in four of those seasons.
He isn't an offensive stalwart and doesn't get on base enough to be considered a viable leadoff hitter, but he serves as a capable bottom-of-the-order batter for a team that may have struggled to get production out of the seven, eight or nine spots in 2016.
How can a 2016 All-Star be a reclamation project?
Well, on June 1, Matt Wieters was slashing .281/.321/.430. Then his 2016 season fell off a cliff. The switch-hitting catcher, loaded with potential, finished the season hitting .243/.302/.409.
But the four-time All-Star has won two Gold Gloves and hit over 20 homers in each season from 2011 to 2013.
The Orioles, however, did not make Wieters—their first-round pick in 2007—a qualifying offer. That may suggest what little faith they have that he will reach the expectations set for him when he made his MLB debut in 2009.
But a team in need of a backstop could take a flier on Wieters. He won't come cheap, however. Wieters is represented by super-agent Scott Boras, a notorious haggler.
Through the first quarter of 2016, Gio Gonzalez looked to be more like an ace than the Washington Nationals' fifth starter.
After his eighth start, the lefty sported a 1.86 ERA. That ballooned thereafter, and Gonzalez finished the season with a 4.57 ERA, representative of his original standing in the rotation.
His 3.76 fielding independent pitching (FIP), however, suggests that the fielding behind him may have factored into the large number of earned runs he allowed during starts. FIP measures the effectiveness of a pitcher independent of the fielding behind him, taking into account statistics such as strikeouts, home runs allowed and walks—all occurrences unaffected by fielding.
Gonzalez, though, has proved durable, which is probably his greatest asset as a pitcher. Even if he figures into the bottom of a team's rotation, it can rely on him to eat up innings. In six of his nine MLB seasons, he has started at least 30 games.
Furthermore, he has proved throughout his career to be much better than the pitcher we saw last season. He started 32 games in 2016 and posted his highest ERA in any of the six seasons in which he has started over 30 games.
In 2012, he finished third in NL Cy Young voting after posting a career-best 2.89 ERA and winning 21 games.
Gonzalez has a career ERA of 3.73, a number he has bested in five of his nine seasons and one that has been largely influenced by his poor 2016 campaign in addition to his first two MLB seasons when he posted numbers of 7.68 and 5.75 in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
After being assigned to a full-time bullpen role in 2006, Joaquin Benoit has been one of the game's best middle relievers. He even saved 24 games in 2013.
But some may have thought Father Time crept up on the 39-year-old when he posted a 5.18 ERA in 26 appearances with the Seattle Mariners this past season.
He was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on July 26 and looked more like his old self thereafter. Benoit had a 0.38 ERA in 25 games with Toronto but missed the entire postseason with a torn calf muscle.
His performance with the Blue Jays gives reason to argue that he isn't a reclamation project, but given his injury—which is to an integral part of the body as far as pitching is concerned—it's fair to question whether he can be as reliable a reliever going forward.
This postseason, more so than in recent memory, underscored the need for quality relief pitching. So any concerns over his injury should be waived in favor of his upside as a key pitcher in high-leverage situations.